Recent years have seen a lot of debate about when to get a mammogram. Some mammography guidelines say age 40, some say age 50. Some say every year, some say every two years.
But one thing is certain: regular mammograms can detect tumors long before you can see or feel them. And according to a recent report from the American Cancer Society, breast cancer death rates decreased by 39 percent from 1989 to 2015, which translates to more than 300,000 lives in the United States. The increased use and improved technology of mammography is almost certainly one of the reasons for the decrease.
Don’t let the possibility of false positives deter you
With all the evidence for the value of mammograms, why would anyone disagree?
Well, if you’ve ever had an abnormal mammogram that turned out to be fine, you know that false positives are a possibility — and a source of stress. They also cost money — for sonograms or other tests to rule out cancer.
Breast self-exams have some of the same risks and benefits. If you have fibrocystic (read: lumpy) breasts, you may be convinced you have cancer when you don’t.
One way to lower your risk of receiving a false positive is to seek a 3-D mammogram, which offers a clearer view of breast tissue than traditional mammograms. Ask your provider if this technology is an option in your area.
The important thing, according to Dr. Silaja Yitta, a radiologist specializing in breast imaging, is to see your doctor if you see or feel changes in your breasts. You know what’s not normal for you.
Others signs you need to see a doctor include breast pain in one spot that isn’t clearly related to your period, any kind of discharge from your nipple (and you’re not lactating), or dimpling on the skin of your breast.
The bottom line
Dr. Yitta recommends following the American College of Radiology guidelines, which advocate annual mammograms beginning at age 40, and every year until a woman’s life expectancy is less than five to seven years.
Most insurance plans cover annual screening. Medicare Part B covers one mammogram every 12 months for all Medicare-enrolled women age 40 or older. For Medicare-enrolled women age 35 to 39, Medicare Part B covers one mammogram to establish a diagnostic baseline. And, most health insurance plans follow similar guidelines.
So, go ahead and get your annual screening mammogram, and see your doctor if you notice any changes with your breasts. It’s reassuring to remember most changes, lumps and even abnormal mammograms turn out to be noncancerous. But they still need to be checked out by a physician. Also, keep in mind that as of 2014, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer that is diagnosed in stage 1 or 2 is more than 90 percent. If it is diagnosed in stage 4, the survival rate is 22 percent. Early detection saves lives! Put the odds in your favor, and take good care of “your girls.”